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US vs UK: Allied Healthcare at Home and Abroad

Allied Health Careers at Home and Abroad: US vs UK

As Americans, we frequently find ourselves comparing our country to our ally, the United Kingdom. As you step into the world of healthcare and allied health careers, you may wonder how our system in the United States measures up to the United Kingdom’s. Take a look into the two healthcare systems in this comprehensive guide.

Health Policy: The British National Healthcare Service

Health Policy: The British National Healthcare Service

Francis Tyers / Wikipedia / CC BY-SA

In many ways, the healthcare system in the UK is hard to comprehend for most Americans. The British National Healthcare System is a social insurance system that operates on the belief that healthcare is a right, not a privilege.

The system of social insurance has many similarities to Social Security and Medicare in the US. In the most basic terms, everyone pays in and everyone gets treatment. The NHS is a publicly funded and administered system.

How It’s Paid For

Health plans are not actually free in the UK, but the percentage of an individual’s income that goes to their care is equal across the board. The British system is free at the point of access, but paid for through taxation. You may be wondering how much this amounts to. In 2008, the tax was approximately 9% of a citizen’s gross income. You might say “ouch,” but remember, no one gets turned away for treatment.

Availability and Standards of Care

Availability and Standards of Care

DFID / Flickr / CC BY

NHS standards are set forth by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). NICE has worked out guidelines and standards for a variety of ailments. For instance, asthma patients who are seen at emergency or after hours care must be seen within the next two days by their primary healthcare provider. Another example is a target wait time for the ER. The goal is for 95% of patients to be in seen within four hours.

Availability of care is one of the biggest healthcare concerns, regardless of the country you live in. Currently, the UK is experiencing a shortage of general practitioners (GPs). This shortage has led to many patients waiting from one week to up to three weeks to see their GP. The NHS estimates that in many larger areas of the UK, the number of GPs required is up to twice as many as the number of GPs currently practicing.

At times, long waits have also been noted for non-emergency visits to specialists as well. Jim Edwards, a writer at the Business Insider, noted that he waited six weeks to see a specialist. In contrast, the average citizen waits about two weeks for routine diagnostic tests such as MRIs, CT scans and electrocardiograms. This wait time is probably longer than many Americans are used to.

Health Policy: Private Healthcare in the US

Health Policy: Private Healthcare in the US

Jlhopgood / Flickr / CC BY

If you live in the US, you know this system well and likely don’t need much explanation here. The big difference is that the healthcare system is structured more like a privilege than a basic right. Here, we all pay into health plans or pay out of our own pocket for our own care.

For the most part, healthcare is private, though Medicare and Medicaid provide services to certain segments of the population. To compare, in the US, healthcare workers and health facilities operate privately, whereas in the UK, facilities operate publicly and workers are public employees.

How It’s Paid For

Here in the US, it’s typical for employers and insured individuals to pay a portion of the cost. There are government subsidies for some patients, but for the most part, this is still the case.

Some estimates show the average American spends about 5% of their gross income on medical costs, including premiums, co-pays and costs that are not covered, but this number varies, since everyone is responsible for their own healthcare costs.

While private insurance or Medicare or Medicaid cover many of the costs, our system does leave gaps. Not all procedures and services are covered, and coverage can vary from company to company.

Availability of Care

Getting care when you need it is universally important. Speedy care in the emergency room is essential. The UK healthcare system target is to have a patient wait time of four hours or less for 95% of its patients.

Currently, they’ve achieved this wait time for approximately 85% of emergency care patients. By comparison, 95% of visitors to the ER are seen within three hours of arrival. The average wait time for emergency and accident care in a US emergency room is 58 minutes.

A Busy Emergency Room

A Busy Emergency Room
MilitaryHealth / Flickr / CC BY

American emergency room wait times may not be bad, but when it comes to seeing a primary care physician, you may be waiting longer than you’d like. A 2014 Merritt Hawkins study surveying average wait times for new patient appointments found that someone looking to see a primary care physician could wait anywhere from five to 66 days, and the average was about 19.5 days.

If you want to see a cardiologist, the average wait is 16.8 days, and for dermatologists, you’ll be waiting 28.8 days. Unfortunately, wait times for diagnostic testing are not readily available, so this is difficult to compare. Traditionally, most diagnostic testing is done through private facilities in a variety of types of institutions, so wait times can vary drastically between a standalone facility and a hospital. The number of machines and technicians in a given region also impact how long you may wait.

Standards of Care

Though the US doesn’t utilize care guidelines in the same manner that the NHS does, there are still definitive standards of care and care recommendations. These clinical guidelines are set forth by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRQ).

They define standards for areas like diagnostic testing, pharmaceuticals and treatment of diseases. And though there are guidelines, healthcare insurance companies are sometimes free to choose what they will pay for, with a few legal exceptions.

Health Professions Career Outlook

It’s clear that both the UK and US have an ever-growing need for healthcare workers. Demand is high in both countries and additional vacancies are anticipated. Many health professions need more workers, including allied health professionals, doctors and nurses. In the US, the aging baby boomer population will continue to bolster the need for all types of positions within the healthcare field.

Career Outlook in the UK

Health Professions Career Outlook in the UK

DFID / Flickr / CC BY-SA

The NHS currently lists over 14,000 jobs available in a variety of areas. The website indicates that about 20,000 vacancies are advertised every month on the site. Close to 1,500 of these are listed under allied health, which includes physiotherapists, radiographers and occupational therapists, to name a few.

The British Association of Occupational Therapists and College of Occupational Therapists cites a growing need for more people to join the profession, though exact statistics are unavailable.

As European citizens, British healthcare workers can easily move to other countries on the Old Continent. The healthcare system in different EU states is pretty similar. On top of this, some countries are very welcoming to British expats.

Career Outlook in the US

Allied healthcare jobs continue to grow, as well as primary care and a variety of other medical positions in the US. We’re all concerned about career viability and growth, so one of the top questions on your mind may be which health careers have the best outlook.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics cites personal care aides, home health aides, diagnostic medical sonographers, occupational therapy assistants and aides, genetic counselors, physical therapy assistants and aides, and physician assistants among rapidly-growing jobs.

Many of these positions are experiencing upwards of 40% growth over a ten-year period. Most notably, personal care aides and home health aides top the list with 49% and 48% growth respectively. Diagnostic medical sonographers come in at a very respectable 46% rate of growth.

Growth is one thing, but you also want a great job. Many health professions rank highly on the US News & World Report 100 Best Jobs list. The top two on the list are dentists and nurse practitioners. Physician, dental hygienist, physical therapist, registered nurse and physician assistant are all in the top 10.

If you’re considering allied health careers in the US, check out these New Jersey hospitals to launch & nurture your career. They’re great places for people just starting out in the field.

42 thoughts on “US vs UK: Allied Healthcare at Home and Abroad

  • Franky_G says:

    What are the differences in the states with low wait times and high wait times for a GP? I’d be interested to know if they are more/less privatized, if that can even be defined.

  • Billie Jo Renee Lear says:

    This made me giggle. In the US your statements about average wait times do not seem even plausible. Most of us wait MONTHS to see our GP for ongoing care. I am scheduled months in advance. Further, the ER visit for most people is upwards of six to twelve hours. Some people wait longer. Unless you are literally going to DIE in minutes, you are going to be in the waiting room for a long time. There is no way around that. This time you gave seems unreal. I have been to our health care ER in the middle of nowhere and sent to NYC in the NYU ER…it is universal. Unless you are going to die immediately, you will wait hours upon hours. Some people have actually died in the waiting room. So where are these doctors offices and ERs you speak of?

    • Peggy Scholtes says:

      I can get in to see my GP the same day I call or by the next day. I usually call a week ahead if I need to schedule an appointment for blood work before they refill my medications. The last time I was in the ER, back in May, I didn’t have any wait. The time before that I probably waited 15 minutes. The longest waits have been in a Patient First on the weekend, and even then, the longest is around an hour.

    • debrah johnson says:

      Fortunately, you can’t make a blanket statement on how long an ER or GP waiting periods run. Perhaps where you live it the norm to experience what may be considered unreasonable, but that is not everywhere nor everyone’s experience. I can schedule as a new patient for a GP in less than a week. Also a visit to ER is a matter of 30 minute to an hour to be seen by a physician depending on the medical situation.

      • James Bathie says:

        You can make a blanket statement using statistics, and that’s what this article is doing. Adding up the # who went to an ER, the amount of time each took and dividing by the number who went. It’s called an average. But even though it can be used, and is always used by Governments round the world, that blanket statement tells the picture they want to hear. The median amount of time is the proper calculation. It tells the exact story of what’s happening, and it’s not provided in the UK, the US or Canada. If it was people would likely be outraged.

        • Chris says:

          Ok, but averages mean nothing to those in areas with little service or overwhelmed services. Sure there are exceptions either way, but averages do NOT paint a picture of overall service. State to State, county to county there are huge differences with real world consequences.

      • Billie Jo Renee Lear says:

        I wont argue that point. For sure it varies. I am glad your wait is less than ours.

    • James Gilman says:

      just got back from DR SAME day appointmtent. Said I was in the neighborhood and could I come in he said yes. This is at Mass General Hospital #1 US hospital (arguably).

    • Barrypuma says:

      I never had to wait months to see my GP for care same day or the next day

    • Sarah Copenhagen says:

      I have to schedule 3-4 weeks in advance for my GP and I live in South Florida. Emergency room wait time is 1-2 hours usually but I’ve had 1 experience where it was around 4 hours. Someone made a comment about 15 minute wait time in the ER they probably live in Smallville, USA with a town pop of 20,000

    • Alex says:

      I work in the ER in Salt Lake City, Utah as a nurse. Typically our wait time before getting into a room is less than 20 minutes. I worked family practice for 3 years and patients that had flexible schedules could typically get an appointment within 1-2 days. Speciality care on the other hand is harder. Anywhere from 1 week to 6 months depending on the speciality.

  • Gobby says:

    It seems to me that the UK universal health care program is the one we should be adopting, but hey it will never happen because the drug companies ply our lawmakers with buckets of money to protect the status quo.

    • Tom says:

      No because the system is crap. The quality of care is much lower than in the US!

      • Sarah Copenhagen says:

        We have the highest costs, and one of lowest health outcomes of any other country. Our quality may not be the issue, but it alone does nothing for the rest of our problems. Don’t turn a blind eye and pretend we have a better system because we do not.

      • Peter says:

        now that is not really true think on it this way the rich and powerful use the NHS just the same the poor, same care I wonder if that is the same in America? and one thing you will never be told doctor will be with you soon we are just waiting for your credit card to clear

        • Don says:

          No one hears that in the ER in the US, either. That’s just a fundamentally untrue statement.

          The argument here in the US lately is that “healthcare is a human right.” It is, to an extent. If you are dying on the sidewalk, you have the right to care. No one is going to step over you and watch you die because you don’t have insurance or a credit card.

          However, you’re also not going to get the absolute cutting edge, top-tier care that someone with buckets of money has, because, let’s face it, you’re not paying for it. They are.

          We aren’t going to let you die. We’re going to do everything within reason to save you. But your quality of life after the fact may be different based upon the resources available for your care. That’s just the way it is.

          Don’t like it? Too bad. Life isn’t fair.

  • Gobby says:

    Live expectancy is slightly less in the US as opposed to the UK, why is this when our health plans cost us far more then it costs UK citizens who get every thing for free apart from scripts which cost them about $10 maximum for any drug, we in the US are getting fucked over by a government that doesn’t care and a health system which is intent on bleeding us dry.

    • Paul Kincs says:

      I would think part of this may have to do with the rate of motor vehicle accidents, as well as a higher focus on preventative care in the U.K., but I’m only speculating. I’ll bet there are many factors involved. I read an interesting article recently about dental care in both countries. In the U.S., more of a practice’s focus is on higher-cost cosmetic procedures, while in the U.K., the emphasis is on prevention and healthy teeth, almost to the exclusion of cosmetics. This was cited as the main reason for the common jokes about Brits having crooked teeth.

    • Dani says:

      1) it says in the article, on average the U.K. Citizen will pay 9% of their income to the government to pay for the universal health care (they pay with their taxes, it is not free). The average for a US citizen to spend is closer to 5% of their income for insurance. I just checked and between my husband and I we pay about 3% of our income on insurance for the entire year, and it’s great insurance. I’m not sure what percentage we pay to the government for programs such as Medicaid and Medicare (that we have no intention of ever using) but I’ll be conservative and say we pay 2% yearly (I’m sure it’s higher and it’s for programs I will never get to use) This would put our average at 5% as estimated in the article above.

      2) the life expectancy is likely lower in the US Related to patient life choices. It’s not a secret that Americans are, on average, overweight and eat poor diets packed with sugar, trans fats, and mass amounts of sodium. All 3 of which are directly correlated with cancer and heart disease. Spending more money on patients is not going to get them to take personal responsibility to take care of themselves.

      3) I agree the government socializing medicine is only screwing Americans over. Some Americans 20 years old and completely healthy, are now forced to buy health insurance when it doesn’t make sense for that demographic to buy insurance. And since insurance companies can not discriminate based on a pre-existing condition, everyone’s rates are sky rocketing because healthy people are now required to share that risk. Wish they’d just let the market take care of it. Get government out of healthcare.

      I understand this will not be a popular post on this site but I really don’t care.

      • Gary Mazzei says:

        You don’t care,you will if you get sick.Ask seniors if they like Medicare, Government ran…Don’t be so selfish,I’ve had Health insurance all my life even when I was young..I payed for people older than myself that probably needed more care than I at that time..Age creeps up on all of us.We pay for a lot of things that we don’t seem to need at the time.Education, which I pay for even though I have no children.Maybe my contribution will educate a future Doctor that will find a cure for Cancer..I think you need to do a little research on Socialized Healthcare.I lived in a country for twenty eight years with that system.Nobody goes bankrupt due to medical bills and they also live longer.Just a little food for thought.

        • Dani says:

          First there is a difference between me caring about how people are affected by government involving themselves with healthcare, and me not caring that my opinion is highly thought of. Of course I care about people and their well being, otherwise I wouldn’t bother voicing a highly disliked opinion. Never did I say I didn’t care about sick people.

          Unfortunately for my entire generation, We will never take part in Medicare. There won’t be any money in Medicare when I retire, yet I still have to pay for it. Does that seem fair?

          How about Medicaid. Nope! Because I made good life choices which resulted in a good job, I will never qualify. Medicaid literally deincentivizes people to better themselves. If you better your self, you are penalized with higher government taxes and don’t receive more government services. (How does that work? pay more get less, welcome to the middle class).

          Ex. The First year in my new job Put husband and I in the next tax bracket up from what we were used to by $240. Because we made $240 too much, we didn’t qualify for child tax credit and we literally paid all of my salary to taxes. But my sister In law doesn’t have a job (which means she pays nothing towards taxes) and she receives thousands (6,000 to be exact) of dollars each spring in return taxes. How does that work?

          I understand this article is about healthcare and not taxes. My point with the example above is, when the government gives handouts, your middle class is who pays for it and suffers. I am that middle class. People don’t realize that if the government would step out of people’s lives, people would take care of themselves better, and people will be more willing to help their neighbors and give to charity. People currently help each other out all the time look at “Go fund me accounts.”

          I am honestly not sure how my original post made you believe I didn’t have empathy for people. My original post was pointing out that

          A) The stats for how much citizens pay in each country for healthcare did seem plausible when compared to my home.

          B) people don’t live as long in the US because we (this is common knowledge) eat a very poor diet and tend to be overweight which is correlated to many diseases ex. Diabetes II, heart disease, and cancer. And

          C) Socializing anything is NEVER the answer. When you socialize something everyone wants it to be affordable, universal, and high quality. It is impossible to have all three. If it’s universal and affordable it’s likely not the best quality. If it’s universal and high quality it’s not going to be affordable and if it is affordable and high quality then it will not be universal.

          You want more about how socialism destroys a country, read about Venezuela, currently.

          You want to learn how capitalism is better than socialism for civilizations, listen to an Ayn Rand interview.

          Again, I understand my opinion that socialism is wrong and evil, is not popular. Again, I don’t care that it’s not popular. people need to know that socialism does not = better for all.

      • Lech Lesiak says:

        Let’s see…. You oppose universal health care that will benefit a lot of people, especially as they age. But I suspect you like defence spending that supports dictatorial regimes and that benefits nobody except the military-industrial complex Ike warned us about.

        • Dani says:

          I’m not certain how you are able to assume my political view on government defense spending, based on my opinion of individualized health care and not universal.

          I’m not even sure what gave you the impression that I would be for dictatorial regimes based on that post. In fact, dictatorships sell their ideas to citizens as “for the greater good”, (think of hitler) similar to universal healthcare. How do you think a dictator comes to power? The people give all the power to the government. The more the government has their hands in the closer they are to a dictatorship. Universal healthcare is a step closer to a dictatorship.

          By the way, you say universal healthcare will help people as they age. There is already a fully ran healthcare system in the United States that services a wide range of patients. It’s called the VA. If that’s the standard of care you want for everyone, then by all means that’s your right. I for one prefer quality, timely, and affordable healthcare. I recommend you look into the inefficiency if the VA before you doom an entire nation to that standard. I’d also recommend you speak with a veteran about their healthcare if you aren’t familiar with how many prior authorizations they have to deal with, along with not being able to choose their is provider.

          • Rick says:

            Well since you mention it, yes, something like the VA would be nice. Until recently as Trump starts to privatize the VA, it has been very successful in comparison to the sorry state of the rest of our healthcare system.
            Spending on the VA per procedure/patient is lower than than private healthcare, and people who use it prefer it.

            If you want to use something as a bogeyman to ‘prove’ your “GOVERNMENT = BAD!! READ AYN RAND!!!” beliefs, at least know what you’re talking about

      • Gary Cole says:

        That 9% gets you a government pension as well, your healthcare costs are 2X more than the UK per capita with comparable results on all levels apart from cancer care which the US is ahead on.

    • Tom says:

      I would like to know your source for the life expectancy comparison?
      I believe it is just the opposite. Life expectancy in the US is higher.

    • Lee Tabin says:

      Life expectancy claims are actually not true if one compares ETHNICITY to ETHNICITY. The claim is an utter lie. However, US has an obesity problem.

    • Susan says:

      Their healthcare is not free, it’s paid for by higher taxes and if their government decides you are not worth treating you are out of luck. Look up Alfie Evans.

  • Tracie polite says:

    My sister lives in England and is being treated for cancer. She keeps requesting help for out of pocket expenses. Under the NHS what could those out of pocket expenses be?

    • Tony says:

      It means she is telling you lies in order to gain some money from you.

      All she can be paying is travelling expenses.

      I’m from the UK, but live in America.

      American health care is absolutely shocking. I can’t wait to return to the UK.

    • Angela Beatty says:

      It could be she is choosing to not use the NHS so she won’t have to wait as long or travel as far. Or she feels she can bet better care by using a doctor that does not practice at a public facility.

  • Blake Bixby says:

    I think this is helpful because I want to become a UK citizen so these differences will help by knowing about this stuff, THX

  • Whocares_386 says:

    UK is much much better if you compare with healtcare system. I think in the U.S that system has broken. I don’t think it will be fixed and perform just like the developed European countries.

    For more info, visit that blog:

  • […] system. This differs from the single-payer, government-funded system used in the UK, known as British National Health Service (NHS). NHS employees (including care providers) are all employees of the UK government. The UK’s system […]

  • Ann Okuefuna says:

    With regard to out of pocket expenses for oncology t’s there are none under the NHS. As a cancer patient the government allows them to claim for travelling to the hospital eohte by way of attendance allowance or through the patients travel scheme if they live far from the hospital.

    The hospital feeds them and they are entitled to free drugs in the hospital or if they don’t meet the hardship criteria they can get prepaid prescriptions for six months which saves a lot of money.

    So I can’t imagine what out of pocket expenses there would be. For ontology there really would be no gain going private they see you and treat you very quickly.

  • Jean M says:

    Emergency room waits vary, depending on where you live, how many emergencies there are at the time, and even what day it is. Weekends and holidays are usually the busiest.
    Emergency rooms take patients by how serious their condition is. You could very well be next in line, and get bumped back by someone having q heart attack. Arriving by ambulance does not necessarily get you seen quicker.
    My shortest ER waits have been less than 5 minutes.(when I miscarried I had 2 IVs going in about two minutes after I was wheeled through the door.).
    My longest wait was about six hours. It was a weekend, our town was under a tropical storm warning, and I was at the county hospital and main trauma center. I had an infected corneal abrasion, which was incredibly painful, but not life threatening.

  • chuck sellers says:

    Heart surgery no matter who is paying cost more in America than it does in Canada.

  • Debra McMeekan says:

    My husband was brought in by ambulance to the ER, he has Epilepsy. He was treated immediately but we waited 18 hours in the ER to get a hospital room – hospital said they didn’t have a room for my husband at that time. I basically did 2 8 hour shifts.

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